Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Apologetics of Philippians 4:8 (as explained by a Current Orthodox Rebel)

The following is an excerpt (pp. 14-15) from Joseph Pearce's book  Literary Giants, Literary Catholics. Here Mr. Pearce explains the different kinds of Christian apologetics. Specifically, he focuses on the evangelizing power of Beauty.

Truth is trinitarian. It consist of the interconnected and mystically unified power of Reason, Love, and Beauty. As with the Trinity itself, the three, though truly distinct, are one. Reason, properly understood, is Beauty; Beauty, properly apprehended, is Reason; both are transcended by, and are expressions of, Love. And, of course, Reason, Love and Beauty are enshrined in, and are encapsulated by, the Godhead. Indeed, they have their raison d'etre [i.e., reason for being] and their consummation in the Godhead. Remove Love and Reason from the sphere of aesthetics and you remove Beauty also. You get ugliness instead. Even a cursory glance at most modern "art" will illustrate the negation of Beauty in most of today's "culture".

Once the theological understanding of the trinitarian nature of Truth is perceived, it follows that the whole science of apologetics can be seen in this light. Most mainstream apologetics can be seen as the apologetics of Reason: the defense of the Faith and the winning of converts through the means of a dialogue with the "rational" and its sundry manifestations. On the other hand, the lives of saints, such as the witness of Mother Teresa [or any missionary for that matter], can be seen as the apologetics of Love: the defense of the Faith and the winning of converts through the living example of a life lived in Love. Finally, the defense of the Faith and the winning of converts through the power of the beautiful can be called cultural apologetics or the apologetics of Beauty.

Throughout history, the Faith has been sustained by, and has built upon, each of these pillars. Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas and other giants of the Church have laid the philosophical and theological foundations upon which Christendom has towered above superstition and heresy, creating an edifice of Reason in a world of error. Numerous other saints have lived lives of heroic virtue and self-sacrificial love, showing that there is a living, loving alternative to all the vice and hatred with which humanity has inflicted itself. Similarly, numerous writers, artists, architects and composers have created works of beauty as a reflection of their love for God--and, through the gift they have been given, God's love for them.

Mr. Pearce's final thought sums up my desire as well:

It is in the last of these three spheres of apologetics, the apologetics of Beauty, that I have found my own vocation, and it has become my aim, indeed my passion, to evangelize the culture through the power [i.e., elements and artifacts] of culture itself.


Homily 8: On Worship and Faith as Products of Poverty (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"Let the people praise thee, O God. Let all the people praise thee. Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our God, shall bless us." Ps. 67:5-6

This is not a matter of pettiness. God is not waiting for flattery before He offers help. Worship is not a matter of flattery; it is a matter of faith. Worship is (at bottom) the acknowledgment of and accounting for the presence, power, and promises of God in the immediate circumstances of your life. To have faith is to recognize God's place as the everlasting variable in the formula of existence, and worship is the same kind of recognition. This is why worship/faith produces blessings: not because they are the magic words that get God on your side; but because God's goodness is always available to His children, but only those who ask will receive (Matthew 7:7). I ask you: what can you receive from one whom you do not acknowledge? What gifts or grace can you accept from one whom you actively ignore? If you are walking along in your despondency, and a compassionate passerby offers you a gift, but you ignore him and subsequently his gift, then who is to blame? The question is never whether or not God is willing to be good to us. God is always willing. The real question is whether we want His help or not.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). Only the poor can receive, because they are completely aware of their need. Only the poor can believe, because they have no hope in themselves. The Christian life begins with an acknowledgment of our poverty and God's riches, and it continues along that same vein. Every household god or arm of flesh that we erect in place of God's bounty will be allowed to proceed so that it may collapse and reveal its impotence, reveal that there is no other rock except our God (Ps. 18:31). Only when we acknowledge our poverty outside of Him will we reach for the riches that He freely gives. Worship is faith. Faith is worship; and both are poverty. In both we acknowledge the utter weakness and crippling depravity of ourselves and the absolute strength and all-sufficient grace of God. May we believe so that we may receive what is always ours for the taking.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

Monday, June 28, 2010

Post-modernism and Revelation in regards to Knowledge (a lecture from an orthodox rebel)

Post-modernism is (at bottom) an epistemological negation: it says that we cannot know or know that we know. The reason that we cannot "know," the reason that we cannot have true and objective knowledge, is because as individual subjects we are bound within our own subjectivity. That subjectivity has been shaped by many forces and contexts: family and friends, society and culture, tragedies and triumphs. Consequently, our subjectivity serves as a pair of lenses (more cynical souls would say blinders) that filters everything that we encounter.

That it filters everything must be stressed. We are predisposed towards certain bents whether we are reading a certain text or seeing a certain terrain. We are always bringing something to the table that shapes and/or skews the way we view things. To put it in religious terminology: we make everything in our own image. To put it in secular terminology: everyone comes with a bias. This is why (to use post-modern terminology) we can only produce stories rather than a Story: our predispositions prevent us from ever knowing and/or successfully communicating any over-arching objectivity.

Christianity, of course, disagrees. It holds that true and objective knowledge is possible and communicable. Post-modernism does not, holding instead to a complete subjectivism, i.e., we are bound within our subjectivity, within the maze of our own mind. Any real communication with the "outside" (if there even is an outside) is impossible as all such communication would be lost in translation. Exactly how Christianity disagrees with this can be stated in three propositions.

(1) God is there. The first is to affirm the existence of God, i.e., that there is an "outside" that contains an "outsider" who stands "outside" of our subjectivity and thus can view it objectively. This assertion is very basic, but it is also very vital to countering the fundamental assertion of post-modernity that there is no "outside" at all.

(2) God is not silent. The second is to affirm the reality of revelation, i.e., that this "outsider" has communicated with us in a comprehensible way. Even if there is an "outside," the post-modernist could retort (quite correctly) that we can never know if this is so unless the "outside" communicates with us. Thus, the Christian must put forward the reality of revelation, viz., that God has communicated with us by way of revelation (both general and special), revelation that is comprehensible because it has come to us in native (rather than alien) forms: nature, conscience, text, and flesh (see Romans 1:18-20; 2:14-15; Hebrews 1:1-2). Note: The form of "conscience" is important because it demonstrates that the communication is not separate from and outside of us. It is a part of us; as beings made in the image of God, we are still capable of sensing the objective viewpoint.

(3) The Holy Spirit is our helper. This third one is often overlooked, and yet it is on this point that the conversation between orthodox Christianity and post-modernism goes awry today. Even if there is an "outside" with an "outsider," and even if that "outsider" has communicated to us in comprehensible way, the post-modernist could retort that we can never truly comprehend this communication because it is we who have to read it, i.e., we filter it through our subjective lenses and skew the meaning our own way. Everything becomes personal "interpretation," and thus everything (once again) gets lost in translation; the original authorial intent is impossible (or at least mind-bendingly difficult) to discern.

There are two answers to this, and both support each other. The first is simply to assert the doctrine of the imago dei and thereby vehemently deny the assertion that nothing is communicable to us. However imperfectly, we still know what is true and false, right and wrong, beautiful and ugly. Any statements to the contrary are trapped in an intellectual vacuum that neither has been nor can be applied to the real, practical world where actual people live and breath.

The second answer is where the final proposition comes into play. It is perhaps by today's standards (both within and without the church) highly controversial, but it is nonetheless doctrinal and scriptural. We must assert that not only is God there, and not only has He communicated to us in a comprehensible/native way, but He has also provided for us a translator for His communication: the Holy Spirit, which (as the third member of the Trinity) is God of very God, and thus also exists "outside" as an "outsider". Therefore, it is He who correctly translates the communication for us, being immediately and intimately with us (I Cor. 6:19) so as to teach us the "deep things of God" (I Cor. 2:6-16). Therein is the answer: (1) God exists, (2) God has communicated to us, and (3) God has given us a translator for His communication. The Holy Spirit is there as translator and teacher to help us discern the original authorial intent and properly apply it to our lives.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

Friday, June 25, 2010

Freedom through Absolutes (as explained by an Original Orthodox Rebel)

The following is another excerpt (pp. 21-22) from Dale Ahlquist's Common Sense 101: Lessons from G.K. Chesterton. Ahlquist quotes Chesterton as he explains one of his key beliefs: the necessity of absolute truth for freedom and action.

The modern mind wants to do away with such quaint ideas as right and wrong. The modern mind thinks that freedom somehow means breaking the rules. But here is where tradition is, as it generally is, on the side of truth. Tradition tells us that the rules are right. We cannot really prove them to be right, except perhaps when we see the consequences of trying to do away with them. The Ten Commandments, for instance. Throughout history, men have certainly failed to live up to them. But in modern times, men have more disastrously failed in trying to live without them. But it is only in establishing and obeying certain rules that freedom is possible. If we break the big laws we do not get freedom. We do not even get anarchy. We get the small laws. [...]

There are some who would argue that we should have no absolutes, that evolution tends to rub out absolute lines [viz., because everything "changes"]. I say, we must have definite lines; but it is not because definite lines are things which restrain humanity. It is because definite lines are the things which distinguish humanity. Our black lines are not the bars of the tiger's cage. They are the stripes of the tiger's skin: they are what makes him a tiger. If you think I want rules merely to restrain some inferior mob, you are quite wrong. It is true that bridles and blinders keep a great part of the human race out of the ditch, but this is not what I am urging. I am not urging anything so profoundly undemocratic. I do not mean that there are some people stupid enough to require general rules. I mean that there are no people wise enough to do without them.

Our need for rules does not arise from the smallness of our intellects, but from the greatness of our task. Discipline is not necessary for things that are slow and safe; but discipline is necessary for things that are swift and dangerous. We do not need a map for a stroll; but we do need a map for a raid. And that is what Western Democracy is now engaged in: a raid. A raid on the New Jerusalem. It is a crusade of justice. We are trying to do right; one of the wildest perils. We are trying to bring political equity on the earth; to materialize an almost incredible justice. We cannot be vague about what we believe in, what we are willing to fight for, and to die for. There are twenty ways to criticize a battle, but only one way of winning it. The ordinary man does not obey special rules because he is too stupid to see the alternatives; he obeys them because he feels, though he cannot express the fact, that they are the only way of having a rapid and reasonable human activity.

Dogmatic democracy as much as dogmatic ethics are our own special creation. There are some who will be annoyed by my calling it a creation of Christianity or a creation of Europe, but certainly it is one or the other. And as the wolf dies fighting, we shall die doctrinal, and Democracy as well as Christianity will die with us. For Democracy is always difficult, and we alone have the fixed principles which face difficulties. If our raid fails no other raid will succeed, and no men, perhaps, will ever come again so near to bringing justice on the earth!

Monday, June 21, 2010

God and Gerunds (the monumental task of the orthodox rebel)

As an instructor at a Christian university, I am required by my superiors to explain how I "integrate faith in the classroom." By "faith," I assume that they do not mean the earnest hope and expectation of my students to receive a good grade. At least I hope that this is not what they mean. At the risk of being a living pun, I will trust that what they actually mean is trusting in God (both His presence and promises) specifically and the Faith (the whole of Christian thinking and practice) in general.

This is a monumental task for the precise reason that my classroom subject is so utterly minuscule. Every Thursday I teach basic grammar and writing skills, a tedious band of practical minutia not found in any dogma or liturgy. Exactly how the great truth of God's trustworthiness, or the other great truths of the Fall, Incarnation, Redemption, etc., applies to gerunds and subordinating conjunctions is a Brobdingnagian task even for the most schooled theologian. Fortunately, God is a grand theologian, and a bit of a trickster. While I was walking to my car, ardently asserting the impossibility of the task at hand, an answer fell into my mind like a thunderbolt. I am uncertain if this is a new revelation or merely a friendly aid to a rather foolish child. Regardless, I present it to you, as I find it worth sharing:

English Grammar and Writing is about communication, viz., successful communication. Such a notion has absolutely everything to do with our Faith. The root of communication is communion, and the very essence of God (being a Trinity) is communion, i.e., successful connectivity with another. Perhaps the most basic way that we can reflect the image of God successfully is to learn how to communicate successfully. Successful communication is the very essence of God because God is communion. A lack of communication is the very essence of Hell because Hell is separation.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

The Humility of Agnosticism (and other follies of the time)

The majority of the modern West is under the sway (in varying degrees) of the cult of agnosticism, and it is being vigorously intoxicated by its most ridiculous tenet: that the agnostic is the humble man while the dogmatist is the height of arrogance. What makes this tenet ridiculous is that it is an absolute lie. It is the man who makes dogmas, who makes assertions, who comes to conclusions and certainties, that is the humble man; for he sees his dogma and assertions as something that not only binds the world but also himself, being a part of the world. The agnostic, however, may not burden humanity with their beliefs, but neither do they burden themselves, being a part of the world.

I will never understand the utter saturation and infatuation of our culture with the notion that agnosticism equals humility when the reverse is so obviously the truth. Even an atheist, with their own arrogance in tow, is not the least bit arrogant towards their materialism. That is something to which they bow in humble reverence and religious faith as a truth outside of themselves, a truth that is true regardless of how or what they (or any one else) feel, think, or will. The same is true of the believer in regards to God. The agnostic, however, will be bound to nothing except their own will. Theirs is a religion of the exalted self, the deification of subjectivity. There is no law or authority other than themselves, a position that serves as the very definition of arrogance. Humility, however, recognizes and submits to a law and authority outside of itself. If you would be a person of humility, then you must be a person of credulity.

Of course, when I speak of "agnosticism," I am not speaking of honest people with honest doubts and honest questions that need honest answers. Those people are (perhaps whether they know it or not) searching for a truth to bind themselves to; they are mystics seeking to become believers, and thus they exude humility. Thus, when I speak of "agnosticism," I am not referring to those noble souls; rather, I am referring to the professional agnostic, the intellectual prig who sneers at people of faith (both the atheist and theist) and calls that sneer a mark of humility. The truth is that this professional agnosticism is merely a matter of arrogance, an arrogance produced by either (at best) philosophical laziness or (at worse) philosophical cowardice. In either case, they refuse to come to conclusions because the consequences are too costly. If you really believe that something is truth (universally, objectively true), then it has an actual bearing on your life, a bearing that the professional agnostic refuses to bear.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

(posters provided by Po-Motivators, from your friends at PyroManiacs)

Friday, June 18, 2010

On the Whole, and Why the Gospel is Not an Ideology (as explained by an orthodox rebel)

I do not consider a true Christian to be an "ideologue" because an "ideologue" is someone who holds to a singular doctrine or idea that does not cover all of the bases of reality.

The Gospel is not an ideology; it is the Truth. It covers and answers everything; its elements (God, Christ, the Fall, Sin, Redemption, Damnation, etc.) provide a framework and context for everything and an answer for every argument. The Gospel is, so to speak, narrow; but as Chesterton once put it, "It is as narrow as the whole universe," i.e., it answers everything while still being the one and only objective Truth.

On the other hand, an "ideology" takes only one thing (whether it be a truth or a lie) and tries to make it everything to the exclusion of the rest of the Truth. This is how most heresies start as well as most ideologies.

That is why conversation is impossible (or at least extremely difficult) with ideologues: ideology is a reductionism; it is narrow to a dangerous fault. Ideologues cannot see beyond the nose of their divorced dogma. They cannot even begin to consider the whole; they are too enamored with their pet particular.

E.g., Marxism is an ideology because it reduces everything to economics; Christianity is the Truth because it reduces everything to God, who is the only adequate base for everything.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

The Hideousness of Modern Life (as explained by an Original Orthodox Rebel)

The following is an excerpt (pp. 20-21) from Dale Ahlquist's Common Sense 101: Lessons from G.K. Chesterton. Here Ahlquist quotes Chesterton's remarks on the most key feature of modern life: its ugliness.

I think it may be cheerfully admitted that one of the strangest, largest, and most fundamental problems of modern life is...its ugliness. The world has grown richer and more complex, and more industrious and more orderly; upon the whole, it has grown more emancipated and more humane; but when all is said and done, upon the whole it has grown more ugly.... What can be the reason for this? [...]

I believe that the great source of hideousness of modern life is the lack of enthusiasm for modern life. If we really loved modern life we should make it beautiful. For all men seek to make beautiful the thing which they already think beautiful. The mother always seeks to deck out her child in what finery she possesses. The owner of a fine house adorns his house; the believer beautifies his church; the lover lavishes his lady; the patriot reforms his country. All these men improve a thing because they believe it is beautiful....

We do not make modern life beautiful precisely because we do not believe in modern life.... If we regarded the engineering of our age as the great Gothic architects regarded the engineering of their age we should make of the ordinary steam engine something as beautiful as the Christian cathedral.... 


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Homily 7: On God's Satisfaction (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"O God, thou art my God; early will I seek Thee. My soul thirsts for Thee.... My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness." Ps. 63:1a, 5a

The human soul, being separated from God, is a restless creature. Furthermore, the human soul, being separated from God, is unaware of His satisfaction, for the god of this world has blinded their eyes (II Cor. 4:3-4). Thus, they can only come to two conclusions: either satisfaction is to be found here, either in this world or in themselves, and so they journey in vain; or there never was any satisfaction to begin with, making restlessness the norm, and so they wander for its own sake. Only the grace of God, preached by the gospel and received by faith, can break such spells.

"Come unto me..., and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28). The rest that the world needs, the peace that will pass all of its understanding, is to have eyes to see, to no longer be blind to the absolute satisfaction that comes from and lies in God and God alone. It must be noted rather defiantly that Christ did not come to preach good manners; indeed, he did not come to preach at all. He came to give us rest: rest from Sin, rest from separation from God. Only the pain of Christ's passion produces peace and satisfaction for the soul. The satisfaction that this world gives is a cheat, while the restlessness that it rests in is a lie. Do not weary yourself believing that brokenness and dissatisfaction are the ultimate reality, the final say in the sad story of life. There's a wholeness waiting in the pierced palms of Immanuel, the wholeness of the infinite-personal God who is there. In Christ, we find our Beloved; in Christ, we are His and He is ours (Song 6:3).

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

A Hymn

"Advance against the actors
of lame audacity,
The amiable arbiters
of every atrocity
Allied against the ache of Adam.

Their altruistic assault aggravates
their own arteries, accomplished
self-suicide of the armies of irony.

Their avarice acquires the all-consuming
abnegation of attacking and avoiding
the absolute alchemy of ourselves and
Alacrity divine."

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

Friday, June 11, 2010

Homily 6: On God's Destruction (as preached by an orthodox rebel)

"...thou hast broken us..., O restore us again. Thou hast made the earth to tremble; thou hast broken it. Heal the breaches thereof...." Ps. 60:1-2

"...I wound, and I heal; neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand." Deut. 32:39b

Herein is the God that we cannot stand. The God that we call terrible names in the silent dark or the empty daylight. The God that causes our soul to shake and our faith to tremble. The God of the horror of great darkness. The God of St. John of the Cross rather than Lady Julian. The God whose ways we defend by either ignorance or dilution. The God whose defense brings shame: God the Judge, God the Breaker, God the Destroyer. God the Healer is easy to believe in and easier still to defend. God the Righteous, full of wrath against Sin and all who are with it, has caused many to turn back and follow Him no more. Will you also turn away?

"Thou hast shown thy people hard things" (Ps. 60:3). There is always a tension between the God that we want and the God who is. If we want a relationship with God, then we must understand that it will be with the God who is: the God who does and allows hard things. All things will work together for good (Rom. 8:28), but that includes hard things. The world is infected with a cancer from within; it needs a surgeon's cutting knife, not a therapist's pleasing words. So He cuts the flesh, He breaks the bone, and we wonder where it is all leading. We are currently on the wrong side of the tapestry; its pattern is half understood (I Cor. 13:9). One man's exodus is another man's plague, and yet God is sovereign over it all, working out the great masterwork of redemption. Our God breaks. He heals what He breaks (if it wants healing), but He breaks. Remember whom you worship: the God who wounds as well as heals and all for good, all for redemption.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

...fragment of a deconstructionist's lament...

(folio continues)

I am the long-faced, hallowed
Hollow-man of letters:
My slack-jawed tie my
Prefatory noose; half-shadows
My fashion of choice.
My lips curve like the vulture's
Wing. I have consumed many;
I had not known
That I had undone so many.

(folio cuts off)

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010